Since pitchers and catchers reported this past week, and with spring training right around the corner, I thought it would be a good idea to try to predict which players will make the Opening Day roster. There will be a few more positional battles for the Cubs this spring than in recent years, so it will be interesting to see how the roster shapes up. In case you were unaware, teams will be able to carry an additional player on their active roster all year, bringing the total up to 26 (for anyone who's wondering, the name of this site will remain the same).
Since neither catcher was traded, I'd assume a similar playing-time split as last year, though maybe new manager Ross will give Contreras a few more off days, especially due to his recurring injuries.
The first three players are the Cubs’ three best players. The next three are all vying for a second-base/utility role. Bote is the only one among them who projects as an average hitter, so I assume he'll get the majority of playing time, especially in favorable matchups.
If Almora struggles this spring, I wouldn't be shocked to see him start the season in the minors. Outside of that, this group seems pretty stable. As a side note, I wouldn't be surprised to see Nico Hoerner get a fair amount of playing time in center field in the minors in case both Happ and Almora fail to develop further.
The first four spots are guaranteed barring injury, and it seems like Chatwood is the early favorite for the fifth starter spot. There's not too much intrigue here.
The only locks for this group are really the first three names, but Jeffress and Wieck both have pretty high upside. Mills is out of options so if he doesn't get the fifth starter spot I'd expect him to lock down the long relief role. Underwood is also out of options and flashed good stuff out of the bullpen last season, so it makes sense to give him a long look. If Megill doesn't make the roster out of spring training, he'll have to be offered back to the Padres. The scouting report on him is good enough to make me believe that the Cubs will give him a chance to stick in the majors.
- Nico Hoerner — I think that Hoerner will be the Cubs’ starting second baseman by the end of the year, but the front office has assembled enough infield depth that I think it's pretty clear they'd like him to spend more time in AAA first. It's hard to argue that it's worth rushing his development to have him start the season in the majors.
- Daniel Descalso — If Descalso does make the team, it will likely be at the expense of Pérez or Kipnis. Descalso has an advantage because he has a guaranteed major-league contract, but he doesn't provide the defensive value of Kipnis or the versatility of Pérez. I wouldn't be surprised to see a small salary dump trade, but I also wouldn't be surprised to see Descalso make the roster.
- Dillon Maples — Maples has just one more option year, but unless he shows improved command all spring, I'd expect the Cubs to keep him stashed in the minors.
- Adbert Alzolay — It seems likely at this point that Alzolay will end up as a reliever. Regardless, he'll probably need a little more time in AAA to refine his secondary offerings before he gets the call.
- Jharel Cotton — Cotton was a nice starter/swingman pickup for the Cubs, but since Chatwood has a large guaranteed contract and Mills is out of options, I doubt he'll make the roster to start the season. I expect to see him at some point this season, though.
Next week we'll have a couple spring training games to talk about. Enjoy baseball being back!